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Panel endorses new magistrates for Clark, Shelby County courts

September 23, 2016

Clark County, Indiana’s perennially busiest judicial circuit on a weighted-caseload basis, and Shelby County will get new magistrates next year if the General Assembly follows Thursday’s recommendation of a judicial study panel.

“We need a little over three judicial officers,” Clark Circuit 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael told the Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary. “We’d really like to have two new courts,” she said, but local funding and facilities wouldn’t be available to support the request.

Clark County has four circuit courts and three magistrates, but a just-concluded caseload assessment shows the county across the Ohio River from Louisville needs another 3.16 judicial officers. Judges in the county have a state-highest utilization rate of 1.45, which means on average they are doing 45 percent more work than they should, according to an analysis by the National Center for State Courts.

Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, also lobbied the panel for more judicial resources. He said continuing growth of the southern Indiana county and region — coupled with the closure of municipal courts in the Clark County communities of Clarksville, Jeffersonville and Sellersville — have added to the need.

The panel also recommended a new magistrate for Shelby County, ranked 11th most in need of additional judicial resources according to the NCSC study. “Shelby County hasn’t had an additional judicial officer for 40 years,” said Shelby Circuit Judge Charles O’Connor. He said criminal code reform has led to jail crowding and strained judicial resources.

Shelby County has three judges and no magistrates, but the analysis says the county has a demonstrated need for 3.66 judicial officers.

Clark County’s population has increased 31.4 percent since 1990, according to census data. An estimated 115,371 live in the county. Shelby County’s population of 44,478 represents an increase of 10.3 percent since 1990.

Read more about the need for judicial officers statewide in the Oct. 5 Indiana Lawyer.

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